normanlambThe government has launched a consultation on strengthening the rights of people with learning disabilities, autism and mental health conditions to ensure that they get the best care possible.

‘No voice unheard, no right ignored’ will ask for people's views on a rage of proposed measures, such as the right to challenge decisions about their care, the right to be treated close to their home and family and the right to design and control their care and support.

The consultation, which will run for 12 weeks, aims to help people live independently with greater input, more rights and more control over their own lives.

Measures up for discussion include:

Having a named professional in charge of sharing information with an individual and their family or carers, including information about their rights to challenge decisions about them and about their care

Ensuring that local authorities and clinical commissioning groups provide enough community-based support and treatment services to keep people with autism and learning disabilities out of institutions

Requiring a care plan, including a plan for discharge, within a number of weeks of admission to hospital

Preventing people from falling through the gaps between services offered by the health system, for example, by making mental health hospitals responsible for patients' physical health as well

Potential changes to the way the Mental Health Act applies to people with learning disabilities and autism

Establishing shared funding to help people get out of the hospital system and expanding rights to personal health budgets to more people with learning disabilities or autism.

“Everyone must have access to the right care in the right place, in or close to their community,” said Care Services Minister, Norman Lamb (pictured). “They must be involved in the decisions affecting them and not ‘prisoners’ of a system, as they so often feel they are.

“That is why I have launched ‘No voice unheard, no right ignored’ to look at what legislative changes are needed to make sure people with learning disabilities, autism and mental health conditions are listened to and treated fairly.”

Change still may take years

However, in a joint statement Jan Tregelles, chief executive of Mencap, and Viv Cooper, chief executive of the Challenging Behaviour Foundation, warned that any change may still take years to be implemented: “We welcome the government’s recognition that a serious imbalance of power exists within the system, leading to the voices of individuals and their families often being ignored, with devastating consequences. We welcome the government’s commitment to address serious legal issues, such as whether autism and learning disability should constitute grounds for section, when neither are a mental illness. It is also welcome that the consultation seeks to clarify and strengthen the legal rights of people with a learning disability to challenge admissions and be supported to live independently in their local community. 

“However, whilst this consultation is important, where changes in the law are needed to deliver new rights, this could take years and is not guaranteed.

“And we must remember that on their own laws are only part of the solution, of making change happen. To ensure that the thousands of people with a learning disability and behaviour that challenges who remain trapped in the system of out-dated institutional care like Winterbourne View can return to their communities we must see – alongside the green paper – the development of local support and services and delivery of the closure programme promised by Simon Stevens when he gave evidence to the Public Accounts Select Committee.”